Between the Devil and the Deep
A Rurouni Kenshin AU Fic

by Gemini

Rated R
for language and violence

Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin is owned by Nobuhiro Watsuki, Shonen Jump and a bunch of other people I can't recall and am too lazy to look up. But, the main point here is that I do not own it, nor am I making any money from this fic! (Ha!)

For Moonspark, who beta read every single damn thing I wrote and then some.

Chapter 13: Into the sunset

Kaoru groaned, memories and dreams retreating back to the ether as she regained consciousness. Awareness came back to her in a piecemeal fashion as she worked slowly through the myriad of sensations, trying to figure out where she was and why she had been unconscious. A dull, throbbing pain in her side made itself known and curious, she pressed a bandaged hand to it. The pain became more intense at her questioning touch and she hissed slightly.

As the sharp stab of pain lifted her out of the fog, a scene played out behind her eyelids, at once familiar and foreign, and she felt a compulsion to remember, it was so important to know. There was a man, tall, good looking, his face twisted in fury, blood staining his navy blue uniform. She saw his sword rush towards her, felt it pierce her flesh and suddenly she remembered everything.

Her eyes snapped open and she stared at the familiar ceiling of her quarters. She was aboard her ship, in her own bed. Quickly, she took stock of her injuries, noting the wound on her side, the bandaged arm, the bruised ribs and some other more minor cuts and bruises. But what of her crew, her ship? What of Kenshin? All she could remember was the man named Shishio raising his gun to shoot the Captain, had he succeeded?

"You're awake." A hoarse voice breathed. "Thank God."

Kaoru turned her head and saw, much to her relief, a fully intact, living and breathing Kenshin Himura.

He looked a bit worse for wear. He was still wearing the clothes she had last seen him in, now sporting dark patches of dried blood and a few new rips, his hair was a mess, his ponytail half undone, he had at least a day's worth of stubble and dark purple circles under his expressive eyes. He moved to sit gingerly on the edge of her bed, relief washing over his features, erasing the sharp lines of worry and fear that had bee etched on his face.

"Is my crew all right? How's my ship? What happened to…" she began to question him but Kenshin shook his head and pressed a rough finger to her lips to silence her.

"Don't worry about anything, Kaoru. Everything is fine. Sano and Aoshi are taking care of things." He said quietly, his hand moving from her mouth to brush a few errant strands of hair away from her face.

She shivered at the intimate gesture and stared at him for a long, contemplative moment. "How long have I been unconscious?" she asked finally.

"Just a day." His eyes darkened slightly. "I was extremely worried about you, everyone was. Megumi thought you might…" he paused, cleared his throat and stumbled over the next bit, "that you might not make it through the night."

"Well, she was wrong." Kaoru noted the change in the atmosphere around them. Clearly, Kenshin had something on his mind. She felt herself tense, a frown gracing her features. "Kenshin?"

He hesitated, spending those moments of silence playing with a loose thread in her bedding. Finally, he spoke up.

"Kaoru, I know we've just met, but, I…" he began, his face coloring slightly.

In an instant, Kaoru knew exactly what he was going to say and rushed to stop him, mimicking his earlier action by pressing a finger to his lips. "Don't." she whispered hoarsely.

He pulled her hand away from his mouth and held it securely between his own. "But you don't know what I was going to say." He sounded slightly hurt; his voice taking on an edge it hadn't had before.

"I have an idea." She replied, all the while thinking to herself that she knew because she felt something, too.

He raised an eyebrow. "Do you?"

She sighed and leaned back into her pillows. "I feel an odd sort of connection to you, Kenshin. I don't know why, but I do. I want to know you better, to understand you, to know what's in your heart."

He leaned forward, the intensity in his expression almost making her gasp. "So you do have an idea, then."

She nodded, closing her eyes as she spoke again. "But that doesn't matter."

He let go of her hand and she felt him withdraw. When she opened her eyes, he was standing a few feet away from her bed, staring at her with a mixture of hurt and anger. "It doesn't? Why not? Why shouldn't we…"

"Think about it for just one second, Kenshin and you should understand." She said sharply, a hint of frustration in her voice. "This isn't a fairy tale. I'm not a fucking damsel in distress and you're not my knight in shining armor. There is no happily ever after for us."

He clenched his jaw and looked down at the ground. "If there is something here, and I do think there is, Kaoru, there is no reason why we can't explore it. I let someone very important to me go once and it damn near killed me, I don't want to leave here without at least trying to figure out why I'm so drawn to you."

She took a deep breath, calming herself. She wished again that she was just a girl, a silly, stupid girl and they could be the happy couple in a fairy tale, with their happily ever after, but she knew her place and she could not forget her duty.

Feeling rather exhausted, she rubbed the bridge of her nose with her bandaged hand, as if that alone could stay the headache she felt was coming. "So, how exactly would it work? Would I give up my ship and my life here to be with you? Would I play the dutiful wife and spend my time cooking and cleaning and having babies? That hardly sounds exciting to me and somehow, I don't think you'd give up your career to stay with me here, on the Kami Kaze." Her words were laced with bitterness.

Startled, Kenshin looked up at her. "I didn't…"

"You didn't think of that, did you? About what happens after the mushy declarations of love? No one ever does." She raised herself slightly, ignoring the twinge of pain in her side. "No love, no matter how great, could overcome all the obstacles in our way."

"Are you so certain?" He asked, clearly pained. "Are you so willing to throw away any chance at happiness?"

Her face flushed. "There are many kinds of happiness, you know. This ship and the men on it bring me happiness. They are my family." She paused to take a deep breath. "This is my life, Kenshin. Maybe we are in the beginning throes of love, maybe I will spend the rest of my life pining after you, but I will not abandon my legacy and place my life in the hands of fate because of girlish hopes and dreams."

He was by her side in an instant, the gentleness he displayed at odds with the fierce expression on his face. He threaded his hands through her loose hair and lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her deeply.

She made a small noise in the back of her throat, not quite a moan, and braced her hands on his shoulders, ignoring the pain and concentrating on every aspect of him, his taste, his smell, his warmth, everything.

He broke off the kiss and began dropping smaller ones on her lips, cheeks and eyelids. "You can't deny there's something…" he murmured.

She sighed and rested her forehead against his, feeling resigned. "No, I can't." she agreed. "There is most definitely something between us. Lust, maybe love, if we had time, we could figure it out."

He absently stroked her hair, trailing warm fingers down her back. "Why can't we make time?" he asked.

"I wish we could, but…"

He pulled away and looked down at her, seeing for the first time the regret in her eyes. "But we can't, can we?"

She shook her head. "No, we can't. There's so much standing in the way, Kenshin." Her eyes looked suspiciously bright. "Sometimes I wish that I was just a normal girl, that my only concerns were new dresses and the latest gossip. But that's not my life. I'm captain aboard this ship and I hold the lives of all these men in my hands. I have to be Captain Kamiya first; everything else comes second, including my heart."

He kissed her again, gently. "I know you're right, but I wish you weren't." he said softly.

"Me too." She replied sadly. "But now all we can do is wonder about what might have been."

"How long has he been in there?" Aoshi asked gruffly. He was currently leaning against the wall outside of the Commodore's room, Saitou's wife and his second Lieutenant, Okita, standing next to him.

Tokio glanced over at Aoshi, who had come aboard the Miburo to negotiate a truce and tapped her chin thoughtfully.

"At least fifteen minutes." She replied after a moment of contemplation, her hands returning to rest on her belly.

"Do you trust him alone in there with the Commodore?" Aoshi asked her, eyeing the closed door to the Commodore's room with some trepidation, Saitou's comment about the wounded man having an 'accident' not forgotten. Okita shifted nervously, glancing at Tokio to see how she would respond.

"I trust my husband's judgment, Mr. Shinomori." Tokio replied. "Anything he does, he does after careful thought."

Aoshi frowned, but did not reply.

Five additional minutes passed in silence before the door to the Commodore's room opened and Saitou stepped out.

"The Commodore, unfortunately, did not make it." The Captain said in a monotone. Okita muttered something under his breath, falling silent when his Captain shot him a warning look.

Aoshi studied the blood on the other man's uniform and raised an eyebrow. "And was that as a result of his earlier injury, or did he have an accident?" He asked.

"He died of his wounds." Saitou replied cryptically.

"Which ones?" Aoshi asked.

Saitou smiled grimly but did not answer. Instead, he turned his attention to his wife. "Tokio, dear, should you be on your feet?"

She rolled her eyes. "So now you're concerned?"

"Darling, I'm always concerned when it comes to you." He replied and took her elbow. "Shinomori, I'm going to go get my wife settled, I'll meet you in the officer's wardroom to discuss the details of our treaty." He turned his amber eyes on his second hand man. "Lieutenant Okita, see to the preparation of the Commodore's remains for immediate burial at sea. And see to it that the men are notified."

"Yes sir." Okita went into the Commodore's room and shut the door firmly behind him before Aoshi could get a good look inside.

"I'll be right with you, Shinomori." Saitou said pointedly.

Aoshi nodded curtly, thinking to himself that he never wanted to be on the bad side of Hajime Saitou.

The two ships bobbed silently next to each other, the early morning fog shrouding them both, blunting their edges and obscuring the people standing like statues on their respective decks.

Kaoru stood on the deck of her beloved ship with Sano hovering protectively at her elbow. Behind them were Aoshi, Hiko and Megumi, her closest circle of friends and advisors, watching her with concerned eyes for any sign that she was unwell. Her crew occasionally shot worried glances in her direction, but she stood straight, her mouth set in a firm line, her expression unfathomable.

Kenshin, with Yahiko standing behind him, was watching her with violet eyes filled with conflicting emotions, mirroring his mental state. Silently he cursed whatever gods were responsible for giving him two wonderful women to love and then taking them away while he stood helpless on the side. He accepted the fact that in such a short amount of time, he had fallen in love with the beautiful and headstrong pirate captain. He didn't understand why or how, but he did know that he didn't want to leave the Kami Kaze and Kaoru. Duty warred with desire, and sadly, duty won. He carefully willed himself to be calm and rational, to recall Kaoru's words of warning. Whatever they had, it could never be.

Saitou marched across the gangplank that connected the two ships, his second lieutenant following closely behind. In deference to Kaoru and the treaty, they had both left their swords behind.

The two captains shook hands and the almost palpable tension that existed between the two crews seemed to abate slightly.

"I appreciate your willingness to negotiate, Captain Saitou and I apologize for the unfortunate events of the past few days." Kaoru said, her voice strong despite her appearance.

"Apology accepted." He replied. "Now, about the terms of our settlement…"

"We stay away from the coast and refrain from boarding any military ships, and return Captain Himura and his ward to your care." Kaoru said. "And you?"

"And I report the sad and unfortunate death of Miss Misao Makimachi, who, along with our revered Commodore Makoto Shishio, met an untimely end due to the sudden and violent storm that so badly damaged my ship. It is quite tragic that those two happened to be on deck when the storm hit and were swept overboard."

Kaoru nodded. "What of Miss Makimachi's maid?" she asked.

"The lady has been convinced that it is in her best interests to remain silent." Saitou said, grinning wickedly.

"You have nothing to fear from your crew?" she asked.

"They are good, loyal men and their loyalty will be duly rewarded." he replied.

"Well, then, I take it everything is in order?" Kaoru raised an eyebrow.

Saitou nodded curtly. "I believe it is."

"In that case, God Speed, Captain Saitou." Kaoru said with a stiff bow.

"Indeed." He bowed back and made a sharp signal to his second lieutenant. "Get ready to set sail!" He barked at Okita as he strode across the gangplank.

Kenshin detached himself from the crowd and stepped up to Kaoru, Yahiko hovering nervously behind him. "Captain Kamiya, allow me to thank you again for saving Yahiko's life and mine as well. I shall always remember your kindness." He took her hand and brushed a kiss across her knuckles, lingering for a moment before letting her hand go.

Yahiko gave Hiko a shy wave. "Remember what I showed you, Mister Hiko! And don't forget to practice."

Hiko grumbled as the crew tittered. "Right."

"Don't worry, Yahiko," Kaoru said with a smile. "Misao will be working in the kitchen now and helping him."

"Thank God!" Someone yelled and there was more laughter.

"All right, settle down!" Sano turned and yelled over his shoulder, silencing the men before Hiko could get up in arms. "Back to your stations you worthless excuses for sailors! We're settin' sail soon! Get this bucket ready to fly!"

"Sano, please abstain from referring to my ship as a bucket." Kaoru glared at her second in command and he blushed.

"Sorry, Captain." He muttered.

"Well, why don't you and Aoshi go make sure the men are doing their jobs?" Kaoru asked Sano lightly.

"Huh? But don't you need…" Sano began, but was interrupted by Megumi.

"She'll be fine, chicken head." The doctor said with a sly smile. "Hiko, let's go see about getting the galley cleaned up." The surly cook raised an eyebrow but nodded.

Megumi hastily herded the others away from Kaoru and Kenshin, pausing long enough to shoo Yahiko away as well. The little boy rushed over the gangplank and onto the Miburo, fearful of the doctor's sharp tongue.

Kaoru laughed. "That wasn't exactly subtle, was it?"

Kenshin favored her with a wry smile. "About as subtle as a hammer."

Her expression turned serious. "I doubt we'll ever see each other again, Kenshin." She said sadly.

He nodded. "Highly unlikely."

She bowed her head, the fingers of her right hand brushing over her left at the spot where he had kissed her moments ago. "I find that I'm mourning what might have been."

He took a step closer, hesitated slightly, then stepped back, realizing that he could not embrace her without raising people's suspicions. "Me too, Kaoru. I wish we had met under different circumstances so that we might have been able to explore this thing between us."

She looked up at him, blue eyes bright with unshed tears. "I'll always remember you, Kenshin." she whispered, a hand reaching out to briefly squeeze his.

He squeezed back and let her hand go, nodding because he couldn't say anything else.

"Excuse me, Captain Himura! I'd like to be on my way, if you don't mind!" Saitou yelled from the deck of his ship.

Kenshin turned and waved a hand at Saitou to silence him before returning his serious gaze to Kaoru's regretful face. "Goodbye." He said quietly. "It was a pleasure to meet you." For a moment, his violet eyes were unguarded and she saw the depth of his pain, one she shared.

"Goodbye." She said and took a step back.

She watched him as he went over the gangplank and onto the Miburo, her heart constricting in her chest. She wished she could go with him, live the simple life she had always envied, but, as the gangplank was pulled back onto the other ship and the anchor raised, she knew that she belonged right where she was, on her father's ship, where she had been born and where, most likely, she would die.

Banishing her tears, she turned and began barking orders, ignoring the pain in both body and soul as she prepared her ship to sail.

Before you send out the lynch mobs, please read this...

Author's Notes:

.:ducks the flying knives, bricks and tomatoes:.

Okay, we are at the end. Between the Devil and the Deep is over. A lot of you are probably thinking, "The hell? Where's my happy ending?!" Believe me, I really wanted to give them a happy ending, somewhere along the lines of: Kenshin and Kaoru abandon everything, get married and have lots of adorable children, ditto with Aoshi and Misao, Sano and Megumi eventually discover their love and hump like mad bunnies, Hiko makes something edible and his parrot learns some new, less offensive words. THE END.

But, I couldn't. It wouldn't have made sense. Think about it. Would you abandon everything you worked so hard for to run of with someone you're admittedly attracted to, but barely know? That happens in romance novels, but not here. There are so many obstacles standing between the two main characters that it would have sold them and the story short to end like that.

Moonspark,my beta reader, was understanding but annoyed about the ending. She wanted more lovin'. She then threatened me with certain death if I didn't acquiesce to her demands, so, the good news is...sequel. Yes, that's right. This chapter of the tale may be over, but the story isn't. So, sheathe your knives, eat those tomatoes and put the bricks to good use building something because I'm not done yet!

Coming soon, to a fanfic site near you...the next thrilling installment of the 'BTDATD' saga, 'Letter of Marque'! (Update: It's posted! Look for it under my stories published!)

I also want to take a moment to thank every single one of you wonderful readers who reviewed me. I never, ever thought I would write a story with over 200 reviews! You guys made my millennium.